When Katie Stauffer began sharing photos of her children on social media, it was just for fun. A way to let family and friends keep up with her growing brood, which included, at that point, husband Charley, and three children, Kaitlin, Finn and Charles.
But when twin daughters Mila and Emma arrived on Halloween in 2014 and Mom began essentially documenting their lives on the gram, things changed. Almost five years and some 4 million Instagram followers later, the family—and Mila and Emma especially—have become full-blown social media celebrities, complete with meet-and-greet events, co-signs from the likes of 50 Cent and Kris Jenner, and a kids clothing line at Target. The mini-empire, born out of some truly adorable and funny videos featuring her little girls, has grown big enough that Katie was able to quit her full-time job a few years ago.
Here, Katie exclusively answers all our questions about that it takes to turn your family into influencers, stay influencers, and stay sane in the process. And bless her, because we had a lot of them.
E! News: Can you tell us about how you got started with your platform?
Katie: Um, well I literally just, it started just as for fun, taking photos of the kids and then I just, I really have always liked photography. So I started, there was like a talent thing where you can see a photo the day or whatever. And I just started doing that in tagging things and then, then my pictures started like being featured on different things anyway. And then different brands noticed Finn, he's the third child. And so it kind of just turned into something that I had no idea. People like sending us stuff, even when I didn't have that many followers and asking us to post whatever. And so that was like, Oh, this is fun. And then...I had twins. And so that kind of brought a different kind of follower. Like they wanted twin moms or taller twin moms. And I just started doing photos with the girls, then we moved and our house was kind of different so that, and I like interior design, so that kind of brought in some new followers. So then just started growing. And then one day my daughter Kaitlin was like, 'I made this funny video of Mila. Will you post it?' And I was kind of like, 'Ah, okay.' And then she started making more and I'd post them. And I guess that's what people like.
When you first started on Instagram, was it was ever your intention to post things about your kids or were you just posting your day-to-day life and it just turned into that?
I was just posting photos that were creative really, of them. I mean, they were in it, but I didn't think, 'Oh, I'm going to do this because it's going to turn into something.' I was just doing it. I had a full time job. I was doing it for fun.
What does the term influencer mean to you? You almost have 4 million followers now, so you're very influential.
I feel like our feed is kind of different, I don't know. For us, it's just wanting to be funny and lighthearted and not too serious. That's what I think people need right now. So, even if it's of a video or a photo or whatever, I try to at least be funny in the caption and not be so serious because, like I said, I think that's what people need and that's what people want and those are the kinds of messages I get like, 'Oh, I'm so thankful that you're just like real', not so, you know, serious about stuff. For me it's just being positive and funny and real.
Who do you personally follow and keep up with?
My favorite account right now is Trey Kennedy's. I love him. I mean it's a lot like the videos we do actually. He does a lot of puns and stuff. I'm kind of making fun of certain things, but using puns and, you know, making fun of girls on it here. But like in a funny way. Everything he does is funny.
Do you ever come up with like a content plan or do any of your kids ever have suggestions on what they want to film? How does that work with your family?
Kaitlin just plans all those videos. I mean, she just does whatever. She writes her own music and she's always been into writing. She's won awards and stuff. Sometimes we don't have a video because she's not—she says she's not inspired. It's really all about whatever she wants to do and what she writes. So there's not really rhyme or reason to it. It's just she'll write a video and be like, 'Do you like this?' So it's really all her on as far as the funny Mila videos.
What is something your followers/subscribers don't get to see the behind the scenes of how everything's created? What is one thing that you wish that they knew?
That it's really Kaitlin that's kind of the creative force behind it and not me, per se. As far as like writing the videos and doing it with her sisters. It's something that, you know, that she came up with that they have fun doing together. The funniest part are the outtakes, sometimes because Mila can't say a word and she'll say something completely wrong. Like, she can't say it and then she'll get frustrated and like kind of like, 'Oh, we'll just go on to the next one'. She was like, 'No, no, I got it'. It was kind of a perfectionist in that way. And she'll want to keep going and to keep trying it.
Was there ever a moment where you thought '‘I am Instagram famous" and what happened? Did the kids get excited? How did you feel in that moment?
Yeah. I mean it was pretty crazy. There was a time when we'd wake up and there'd be like another hundred thousand followers overnight. So, I remember when we got a million and we're all in the family room and like everybody was excited and screaming and the boys, which they weren't really in the videos or anything, were so excited. It was just, it was a really crazy time. It was like a few months there where it was rising so fast. We are just having so much fun.
When was the moment where you guys were starting to rise? Was there a specific video or something that you put out that was taking off?
It was either the Mila video about her hitting the gym, or probably the preschool video that was like the most popular. People died over that.
Do any of the other kids pitch you any ideas? Does Mila ever want to create something of her own too or have any ideas?
They love to do the challenge video, so they kind of have another YouTube for that and that's thing to do. So, she definitely comes up with ideas for that cause they watch YouTube all the time. They constantly come up with ideas for that.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about influencers?
You know, [that] creating content is really easy, so they're just making all this money and not doing anything—because that is so not true. There's a lot that goes into [it,] even if it's just a photo. I'd probably say that people just think that they're making all this money and doing nothing when it's so time consuming. You can't miss a day. You've always got to be on, you've got to be posting all the time, but very consistent. And when you have five kids and lives, it's not me. Then keeping up with content for brands and stuff, and it's not just like you shoot something for a brand and they're like, 'Oh, it's perfect.' You sometimes have to to redo it. And especially for people that are dealing with kids, like working with kids and doing it. It's hard.
How do you balance motherhood and being a mom to five kids and then also doing this job with them? And how do you distinguish being mom and then also letting them do the fun videos?
I mean, it's just so separate. It's not like we're doing videos all day long, you know, maybe like once a week. Or maybe twice a week. But, we only probably do it for an hour, so two hours a week and then the rest is just our normal life. I can film a story and they're just doing whatever they do. Or a picture, I just take a picture of whatever we're doing that day. So...it's just two separate times completely. So most of the time I'm just being a mom and living.
What is your self-care go to when you want to unplug from social media and catch your breath?
Mindless television. Literally if I have a time where the kids are gone, all I want to do is literally watch reality TV. I love it all. I'll watch it all. Every Housewife, every Bachelor, I mean, all of it. I love all, love that. I also really do like The Handmaid's Tale.
You already elaborated on this a little bit, but what would you say is the biggest difference between you and your family on Instagram and your videos, your YouTube videos, and then you guys in the real world? I know you said you kind of keep it separate, but is there anything that is different or that we don't know?
No, I mean, what you see is really what we're like, yeah. Just what you see is what you get. I mean, there's not really any faking in our family.
Are your kids personalities the same or does Mila or anyone else put on an act for the camera?
She's definitely an actress, I'd say. She can turn it on and off when she's doing a video that she's into and she's acting. But what you see with Emma is really what she's [like,] that's just her naturally. And same with Charles. What you see with them, that's really who he is. He is really actually funny in real life. Very sarcastic.
If you could go back and give someone advice who is starting out and wants to have as big as a platform as you and your family, what advice would you share with them?
Humor. I guess this is just for me, but I mean I feel like obviously there's all different kinds of content, but humor and being real is what I like and I think what people like. I just feel like funny content is the best. Especially if you're a family. So even if you're doing like a family blog or whatever, just making it real and funny.
Do you have any suggestions or advice on how to grow? You know, besides like being real and authentic and all of that, how do you actually gain the popularity and the followers and the fans?
For me it was just having people share stuff. I would just ask people to repost and I think we got a lot of followers because I would ask these big accounts on Facebook. I barely even had a Facebook, but now it has like five million followers because Facebook is where people could share them and it was just easy. I would search for funny video content on Facebook and then I'd ask these people to share them and then it would just bring people Instagram. But, literally, sharing was how we got most of our followers.
How do you decide what you'll share with your followers on Instagram and then what you will keep to yourself and your family?
I mean, I pretty much share everything except, you know, if the kids are crying or being emotional or something that they wouldn't want me to share. Then we keep it private. I don't really hide much except the obvious things. Like I'm not going to video myself in the shower or something or getting ready. You won't see much from my husband because he doesn't like it. Even though he's involved, you won't see him. But I can't think of anything that is like totally off-limits.
Is there anything else that we should know about your family and platform? Any product or anything that you want to promote?
We're really excited because we were partnered with Vicks Children's Cough & Congestion. And for us it's really exciting because that's something that—my dad is a doctor and my husband's a doctor and we've always used Vicks products. As an influencer, we get asked to do a lot of stuff, so when you actually get a product that you are, you know, a company that you actually have used like way back to even my childhood, it's really exciting. And I worked with Vicks on other stuff too. So, when we found out that Vicks was coming out with this for children, we were really excited about it. Growing up, my dad was...really into like making sure we talked about medicine because there's crazy stuff out there. So I always trusted Vicks because he did. So when they came out with the kids stuff, it was good because it doesn't have all the crap in it...So...we're really excited that they are coming out with this new line because it's something that we actually use. And actually when we filmed that, we were filming content for Vicks and the girls we're actually really sick. So you'll see that video soon, but they're actually really sick in it. It's cool to be working with a company that you actually believe in.
So what can we expect next from the family? And what do you hope, you know, when the kids are older, what do you think will be next for them? Have they talked about their hopes and their dreams?
I mean, the little girls haven't really talked about their hopes and—I mean, Mila wants to marry Prince George, but that's probably not going to happen. Kaitlin is really into nursing and that's what she wants to do. But we're really trying to do more videos as a family. We've filmed a few that and we're going to be posting starting next week. Our content will be more of all of us together being really funny and crazy.